At least one gunman took 13 people hostage on Monday at a chocolate shop in Sydney, Australia, local TV news was reporting live. Police had closed off a number of streets in the area and had evacuated nearby office buildings, authorities said.
State and federal police were responding to the incident, the prime minister said, and police have urged people to leave or avoid the area.
"Police are dealing with an armed incident and specialist officers are attempting to make contact those inside a café," New South Wales police said in a statement.
The Lindt chocolate shop is in Martin Place, a busy tourist, transportation and shopping district that is home to several major banks, including the Reserve Bank of Australia. At one point, a black flag resembling the ISIS standard was shown in the shop's window.
Those people still in buildings on streets bordering Martin Place were warned to "remain indoors and away from open windows," police said.
New South Wales police said on social media that some streets in the area were closed and some suburban rail services were suspended. Australia's Channel 7 News, which reported that there were 13 hostages, said the nearby Sydney Opera House had been evacuated.
Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken with the New South Wales leader, Mike Baird, and offered him support and assistance. The National Security Committee has also met for briefings on the hostage situation, he said in a statement.
"This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.
The U.S. Consulate in Sydney warnedAmericans to stay away from the area.
The hostage incident comes after police performed a series of major anti-terrorism raids throughout Sydney in September, The Sydney Morning Heraldreported. Following those operations, police alleged that Islamic extremists were planning to behead a person in Martin Place.
"This looks all too like our worst fear being realized," Greg Barton, a Middle East and terrorism expert at MonashUniversity in Melbourne, told Channel 7 News.
The black flag was being misreported as an ISIS flag, said Barton, who described it as a more general Islamic standard that "has been used by jihadi groups as a battle banner." Its use "suggests almost certainly that we're looking at some sort of terrorist attack," he said.
"Up until now, there has not been this wave of attacks [in Australia], but that appears to be what's happening here," Barton said.
Sunday, January 21 2018 12:50 AM EST2018-01-21 05:50:24 GMT
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